Supporting a different kind of Bumiputera economic congress in 2024

Such a congress would include issues such as the success and shortcomings of past and ongoing government-sponsored programmes.

Ong Kian Ming

Recently, there has been some discussion about whether there is a need to convene a Bumiputera economic congress in 2024.

I would be supportive of a Bumiputera economic congress, but of a different kind in terms of content and approach. My proposals for such a congress would cover the following areas:

Evaluation of the success and shortcomings of past and ongoing government-sponsored programmes to empower the Bumiputera entrepreneur ecosystem

The government ministries and agencies (finance ministry; investment, trade, and industry ministry; entrepreneur development and cooperatives ministry; the National Entrepreneur Group Economic Fund; SME Corporation Malaysia and Majlis Amanah Rakyat, just to name a few) should work together with academics and other stakeholders such as industry associations to evaluate the effectiveness of Bumiputera entrepreneurship programmes.

These studies should highlight the success stories, but also be honest about the shortcomings of many of these programmes.

For example, I would be interested to examine the extent to which the approved permits scheme for selected imported automobile models has succeeded in creating successful Bumiputera companies in the automotive sector.

Another area would be whether government procurement policies benefit a large number of Bumiputera contractors, or do they only benefit a few “cartels” which control a majority of these government contracts?

Only with such independent studies can existing policies be improved so that sustainable Bumiputera businesses can have the space to flourish.

Evaluation of Bumiputera vendor development programmes by GLCs

Many GLCs have Bumiputera vendor development programmes, including in the oil and gas sector under Petronas and in the telecommunications sector.

What are the lessons that could be learned from the success stories of these vendor development programmes, and how can they be improved over time?

Are the right governance processes put in place under these programmes so that the experience of Serba Dinamik is not repeated in the future?

Sharing of human resource management best practices among Bumiputera-led companies

The issue of talent retention and development is one which all companies face.

What are the best practices in Malaysia among SMEs and large local corporations to develop, train, and retain local talent, including Bumiputera talent in Bumiputera-led companies?

How do these talents get the proper international experience to get some of them ready to lead these companies into the international arena?

What are the most effective scholarship and internship policies to attract the best talent into these companies?

Are there lessons which Bumiputera-led companies can learn from other companies which manage to retain and develop their Bumiputera staff? This kind of knowledge should be openly shared.

Experience of working with non-Bumiputera companies

Any Bumiputera-led company will have to work with non-Bumiputera companies which are part of the supply chain in different sectors of the economy in Malaysia.

What are the conditions which can lead to the establishment of successful long-term partnerships between Bumiputera-led and non-Bumiputera companies? What are some examples of such positive partnerships?

Examining the record of government-led investments with a Bumiputera empowerment agenda

There have been certain venture capital and private equity investment funds created by the government with the objective of Bumiputera economic empowerment in different industries.

What has been the track record of such investments? What can be done better in the future to better achieve the desired objectives? What are the major challenges faced by such companies?

Ekuinas would be a good case study. It was established in 2009 to “promote equitable and sustainable Bumiputera wealth creation and economic participation based on the principles of market-friendliness, merit, and transparency via the creation of Malaysia’s next generation of leading companies”.

Fifteen years on, what has been Ekuinas’s track record? It had to sell off all of its shares in the Burger King franchise in 2015 to a group controlled by two non-Bumiputera businessmen, which includes the founder of the 99 Speedmart chain.

Ekuinas has also disposed of other investments in the food and beverage sector, including those owned by Bumiputeras.

How easy has it been for Ekuinas to balance its objective of seeking attractive internal rates of returns with the objective of Bumiputera economic empowerment?

These are difficult and challenging questions which should be discussed at the Bumiputera economic congress. Ekuinas is only one of many such government agencies.

Looking at Sabah and Sarawak

We often overlook the needs of the Bumiputera communities in Sabah and Sarawak when we discuss Bumiputera empowerment challenges and opportunities.

Any Bumiputera economic congress would need to include this topic as a key topic and would need to engage with the state governments of Sabah and Sarawak.

I am sure there are many other areas which can be included in the Bumiputera economic congress which I have not listed above.

I am encouraged by the appointment of Ibrahim Sani as the new CEO of Yayasan Peneraju, an agency which sits under the economy ministry.

If Yayasan Peneraju is to be one of the main organisers of the Bumiputera economic congress, I am sure that Ibrahim will bring his many years of experience and exposure to the corporate sector (via his role as a media practitioner) to ask many tough questions and get insightful answers from the people and institutions which are part of the Bumiputera economic empowerment community.

I hope that the people invited to speak at the Bumiputera economic congress will not be confined to the Bumiputera community in Malaysia.

I am sure there are many entrepreneurs from the non-Bumiputera community who would want to contribute their insight and experience to this discussion.

For myself, I would be glad to participate in this kind of Bumiputera economic congress, to contribute my thoughts as a policymaker, in ways which are consistent with the objectives of the Madani economic vision.